As more and more companies transition to newer, greener, more environmentally conscious practices, us consumers are left trying to decipher the slew of buzzwords they use to define their new processes.
Somewhere in the various combinations of carbon, greenhouse gases, reduction, emissions and recycling there are actual implications to be understood. Some of the most commonly used include carbon-neutral, net-zero and climate positive – so what do all these phrases actually mean?
In practice, a company that is carbon neutral is ensuring that any CO2 they are putting into the atmosphere; through production, manufacturing, freight etc, is balanced by an equal amount being removed from the atmosphere – essentially eliminating their own carbon emissions.
It is very difficult for a company, or individual for that matter, to emit no carbon emissions. Therefore, it is important for these companies to start thinking about how they can minimise the amount of carbon they are adding to the atmosphere and how they can offset what they do emit. Carbon offsetting is usually done by investing in carbon sinks, such as forests, soils and oceans which absorb more carbon than they emit. Investing in projects and non-for-profits which create and maintain carbon sinks are how companies usually offset their carbon emissions.
Other buzzwords you may be familiar with and are in the same vein here include carbon-negative and carbon-positive. Confusingly, both of these terms essentially mean the same thing and it is just the result of marketing semantics.
To be carbon-negative or positive means you are actively removing more carbon than you create, leaving the atmosphere even better off than when you started.
Carbon-neutral and net-zero are two very similar terms that mean very similar things. Both phrases mean a company is actively working to reduce or balance out their carbon footprint. Where carbon-neutrality refers to the act of offsetting their carbon emissions through environmentally conscious investing, net-zero means the company never produced carbon in the first place. Companies which use renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power are examples of how organisations can transition to net-zero.
It is essential however to point out that net-zero refers to the overall balance of greenhouse gas emissions or GHG produced, and GHG emissions taken out of the atmosphere.
Net-zero refers to a point in which people stop adding excess emissions to the atmosphere.
Climate positive is used interchangeably to reference being carbon negative/positive – both terms can be used for a company which consciously removes more carbon from the atmosphere than what they produce, making a positive impact on the environment.
Companies which are climate positive invest in understanding their exact carbon footprint and what processes are creating the most emissions. This is done by calculating things like operational emissions, energy used, transportation, product or service related impacts upstream and downstream, to measure where and the quantity of carbon a business may be releasing into the atmosphere. While this sounds like a long and tedious process Carbonhalo has an easy to use carbon footprint calculator made specifically for businesses so no matter how big or small your enterprise is, you can take steps to becoming more climate positive.
As Australia aims to become net-zero by 2050 we’ll all begin to see more buzzwords like carbon-neutral, net-zero and climate positive being positioned in association with brands and companies. As we also aim to be more sustainable and consumer focused, it’s important to understand the difference between these terms and be able to draw conclusions as to what actions these companies may actually be taking.